Music is something that brings out a range of emotions in people. Those who listen, if they connect to what they hear, I mean really connect, are transported by what they hear. That is true of Florence Foster Jenkins. An opera singer who is widely regarded as the worst singer of all time. She seemed to not be aware of this. Or did she? This documentary tries to get to the bottom of who this women truly was.
Florence was born in Pennsylvania in 1868. Her parents were very wealthy. From an early age she demonstrated a desire to sing. Her parents realizing she had no talent did not encourage it. Until her father’s death she did not really sing. Described as a socialite diva, she was definitely a woman of means who was rather eccentric.
Her father did try to control her through money and her access to it. To get out from under him, yet still live in the fashion she had become accustomed to, Florence married a rich doctor, Frank Jenkins. They never had children. She moved from Pennsylvania to New York City where she recreated herself into an eccentric socialite. When Florence contracted syphilis from him reportedly she left him and never spoke to Jenkins again.
Once her father died he left her quite a bit of money. It was at this point she began to take singing lessons. It was around this time she met St. Clair Bayfield. He became her manager. At this time she began performing at Ladies clubs around New York City. Small affairs. Despite the size she began to attract quite a bit of attention. Equally for her elaborate costumes as for how poorly she sang.
Interesting fact was that she was very sick with syphilis during all this. Did her illness effect her mind? Could be. The medications she was taking (mercury and arsenic) could certainly have had negative effects on her hearing.
The world’s worst singer and did not realize it. No ear, no intonation. Terrible. A monster of vanity. She wanted to be a famous singer and became just that. Florence never gave up. A good story, though. If she could become a famous singer so could anyone really.
Forence Foster Jenkins was a success. A success in that her music still outsells many of the acknowledged masters. She not only managed to play Carnegie Hall in NYC, but sold it out. Audiences loved her. Though they could hear how bad and off pitch she was they only laughed when the music covered up the noise of it. They played along with her. Never letting her in on the joke. Bottom line is that her music brought plenty of joy to the people listening to it.
There is something about her singing that is funny. She did not mean to introduce humour into the music world, but she did. Once you get over the shock of how bad it is, though you begin to hear the sadness.
Florence Foster Jenkins was a wealthy woman. Wanted to bring music to the world. She obviously did not hear her voice as others did. Seemed to live in a world of self-delusion. Believes she is the greatest soprano of all time. Doesn’t get that people are laughing at her. Did she hear her voice differently than everyone else? I think so, as she seemed to be dead serious about what she was doing.
Getting to the bottom for director Ralf Pleger means trying to understand the woman. He brings out how fascinating she was and is. Examines a case of inner delusion versus the external reality. Using some dramatic recreation, interviews, audio of Florence singing, and photos, Pleger sets up the story and investigation into who the woman really was. Interestingly opera superstar Joyce DiDonato is cast as Florence and sings impressively badly in her first dramatic film role.